You Christians Have An Image Problem

Today's post was originally written by our Midwest Regional Director, Martin Brooks, and published on his personal blog

“You Christians have an image problem,” my Turkish friend told me. We had been meeting for several weeks: six couples and a single friend, Christians and Muslims, sharing meals and our respective faiths. We had developed a level of trust and respect that allowed us to speak openly.

He went on. “I have learned that at the core of Christianity is the love of Christ. Your message for the world is the love of Christ – I get that. I have learned that from getting to know all of you. I did not think that before I came to America and met people like you. I was not taught that. Now, when I return to Turkey, I will tell people that true Christians are known for their love. It is core to your faith, but there is a problem. When I tell my Muslim friends that Christians are good people who love God, they will not believe me. They will say ‘Look at their government and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Look at how they live. How they support injustice and imperialism around the world.’ They won’t believe me! You Christians have an image problem.”

The Christians and Muslims in that room have gotten past the stereotypes. We love each other, and we trust each other. We would sacrifice for each other. We will look out for the interests of each other. We still disagree on some crucial issues concerning the identity of Jesus, but in this deep friendship we have shared from our hearts. When all is said and done, we are good friends. People could tell me that Muslims are bent on war and destruction, and I would say, “Not the ones I know.” People will probably tell my Turkish friend that Christians are bent on war and greedy for money and power; I think my friends will defend us.

I don’t know how someone can say, “There are no moderate Muslims.” That assumes the worst of one and a half billion people. Generalities are usually wrong. We really must stop talking about the “evil other” and start building friendships and understanding so these stereotypes can be dismantled. Name-calling is just the lazy man’s way of saying, “I’m better than those people.” Well, at least some of the world is not buying the rhetoric.

I was reflecting on what my Muslim friend had said about Christianity having an image problem. In truth, Islam also has an image problem. Muslims like to say that Islam is a religion of peace, but most American Christians would not agree. They would cite revolutions, dictators, or oppression of the church in some part of the world and say, “You call that peace?”

It seems to be human nature to compare our best to their worst. “Apples to apples” is hard to come by in a polarized dispute. Christians reading this may dismiss the charge that we have an image problem by comparing themselves to the western stereotypical image of Islam, but we are called to compare ourselves to the perfection of Jesus, not Islam. Remember Jesus, who on the cross did not call down heaven’s legions for protection but rather loved and forgave. Remember Jesus, who when rejected by the Samaritans rebuked his disciples who wanted to rain down fire on their “enemies.” Remember Jesus who said, “No more of this!” when Peter drew his sword in the garden. Remember Jesus, who told Pilate that if his Kingdom were the type that Pilate knew, Jesus’ servants would fight. Remember Jesus, who said we should love even our enemies. Jesus showed us a new way to respond to others: it is the way of love. That is the image we want. They will know we are Christians by our love. If we have lost that witness, that reputation of love, our words become clanging cymbals.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve lived in Muslim countries and visited many other Muslim countries. I’ve met Muslims from all over the world, studied in a Muslim university, and have many Muslim friends. I am not naïve, but neither do I continue to live in fear of the stereotypes. All men, Christians and Muslims, are subject to prejudices and fears, which cause them to act in irrational, ungodly ways. There are many Muslims and Christians that are so sure of their opinions that they feel justified in discriminating against others who don’t see things as they do. A new Muslim friend of mine refuses to return the traditional greeting of peace to me when we meet. He probably assumes I cannot really have peace unless I am a Muslim. It is a little bit aggravating. It seems arrogant and self-righteous to me. But then I think of Jesus’ teaching to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and it makes me more determined to treat all people with dignity and respect. Nearly all of my encounters with Muslims are very friendly. Even the man who is refusing to give me peace is standing on some theological principle that he does not feel he should violate. He is nice, just insulting. Perhaps he is hoping I will see the error of my ways by his stance for “truth.” So far it is not working.

So if Christianity and Islam both have “image problems” and both sides claim they are being misrepresented, doesn’t it make sense that we should be talking to each other and sorting this out? Haven’t we had enough books and hateful posts misrepresenting the views of each other? There are significant differences between Christians and Muslims. People have died for the sake of their respective religions, but there are also fabricated differences exasperated by centuries of conflict and the avoidance of each other. We can fix a lot of this if we will “seek peace and pursue it.” James teaches us that, “Those who sow in peace will raise a harvest of righteousness.” If we want righteousness, peace is the soil into which we need to be sowing. Let’s do our part to prepare the soil.